14:22, Friday 19 Dec., 2014

1.

The Kindly Brontosaurus, The amazing, prehistoric posture that will get you whatever you want, whenever you want it.

It works like this:

You must stand quietly and lean forward slightly, hands loosely clasped in a faintly prayerful arrangement. You will be in the gate agent's peripheral vision—close enough that he can't escape your presence, not so close that you’re crowding him - but you must keep your eyes fixed placidly on the agent’s face at all times. Assemble your features in an understanding, even beatific expression. Do not speak unless asked a question. Whenever the gate agent says anything, whether to you or other would-be passengers, you must nod empathically.

I vaguely remember reading an article about holding eye contact for one beat longer - four rather than three seconds - and how persuasive that is. But I can't find the article now, Google just returns a ton of blog posts about flirting.

2.

Content, Forever starts with whatever Wikipedia page you want, then gives you an auto-generated article (for however many minutes read you want), rambling through paragraphs of interconnected articles.

Related: Nieman Lab predictions for the future, generated with a Markov chain generator.

Computational social scientists are already working on wearable technology, however, they are tackling interesting problems, and I personally look forward to reading the email lists where she asks her question about how to be able to quickly iterate and push ideas to market, all while empowering culture changes along the way for customers who advertise with media companies with giant databases of information that makes up articles.

Fewer and fewer shut-off valves.

3.

The Studio D End of Year Report led me to their custom-design zero branding duffle bag: D3 Traveller.

Which I now want to own, of course. Ultragibson.

4.

Shirts wash part 1, on YouTube. Via @philgyford who said Brilliant (if shaky) mundanity: ... A boy's multi-part commentaries of washing machine cycles.

It's like we're see this boy before he's been infected with society's idea of what constitutes news. The sacred and the profane. Don't take the piss, this is good.

Malden level crossing.

Something brilliant about seeing through somebody else's eyes, the ambient sound and everything.

Interconnected

A weblog by Matt Webb.

Korbo, Lorbo, Jeetbo.

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You can get updates to this blog on Twitter: follow @intrcnnctd.

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13:12

Coffee morning three! Six of us this time: Josh, Gavin, Alex, Raph, and Daniel. Thanks for coming!

I kept some notes...

Something about commissioning a sit-com pilot about open data?

Sexy turducken. Don't ask.

Fridgeezoo fridge pets. Which are SO CUTE.

And a long, rambling conversation that had no conclusion but - to my mind - is the most interesting consequence of web-connected products and the new hardware startups.

Which is that manufacturers never spoke to consumers before. They spoke with distributors and retailers. But now products are connected to the internet, manufacturers suddenly have a relationship with the consumer. And they literally don't know what to do. Should marketing look after this? Or product development? Or customer service? Or should it be outsourced to an agency, like advertising?

For instance... the "Tips" application on the iPhone. Who looks after that? Who makes sure the content is good? Apple is an exceptional company, and they care about customer experience at every level. But could Bosch do this? Or Magimix?

If companies don't get this right, their products won't be any good. But to get it right, they need to restructure. I saw this challenge multiple times while we were consulting on new connected products.

But the incumbents will find it hard to adapt. Which leaves the door open for new hardware companies who behave more like companies that run websites: In touch with their community, selling direct, a product group that cares about the product in-use not only until the moment it leaves the factory.

Also.

Also we had crackers and festive hats. Proof.

Next coffee morning

I'm loving this different mix of people each time thing. I was fully expecting to sit on my own doing email, and ended up having a brilliant and funny bunch of conversations. A proper little street corner!

Next coffee morning: Thursday 15 January, 9.30am till whenever, the Book Club again.

Pop it in your calendar, it'd be lovely to see you.

15:25, Wednesday 17 Dec.

1.

The nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) is tiny and only has 302 neurons. These have been completely mapped and the OpenWorm project is working to build a complete simulation of the worm in software. A neuron map is called a connectome.

(In May, OpenWorm achieved a successful Kickstarter to run the worm's brain in a web browser.)

One of the OpenWorm founders has hooked up the software connectome to sensors and wheels in a Lego robot body: A Worm's Mind In A Lego Body.

It's a funny threshold to cross without much fanfare, the first brain upload.

Is this Artificial Intelligence? What's A. about this A.I.?

Related: The four-colour theorem which was the first to rely on Proof By Computer. Instead of being solved mathematically, every single of the vast number of cases was checked by a computer program. Does this count as a proof? Controversial at the time, more common now.

Related: Slime mold robot. Related: Cyborg cockroaches.

Caenorhabditis elegans. C. elegans.

Is the uploaded nematode a new species? If so, what do we call it?

2.

Books are back in the UK. E-book sales have peaked at 30%; Waterstones (major but recently troubled chain bookshop) is beginning to open new branches.

Old books undergo acid hydrolosis -- lignin, which binds the fibres, oxidises into acids which break down the cellulose. The organic compounds released smell of vanilla and almonds.

3.

I mentioned the Cereal Killer cafe the other day... here's another perspective:

Cereal Killer Cafe, the London Review of Breakfasts.

A wave of nausea suddenly hits me. I'm staring at my notes and the room feels like it's breathing. Then the rest just pours out. 'Is your cafe ironic? Do you really like ADHD kids food? Or just jokingly like it? Is there really anything to celebrate here beyond a profound efficiency in the delivery of deadly consumption habit forming food to minors? Or is that the point?'

Must read.

4.

I get a few specific items from particular brands. For the basics, I love Uniqlo. Great clothes.

...maybe a little bit because I'm in love with their slogans, which every employee must memorise, as related in this GQ article on Uniqlo.

Uniqlo is clothes that suit your values.

Uniqlo is how the future dresses.

CHANGE OR DIE

Fast Company on Uniqlo: We are not a fashion company, ... We are a technology company.

At the factory, a technician hands me a packet of small white pellets that look like albino peppercorns. These are the seeds of HeatTech.

Uniqlo is beauty in hyperpracticality.

Uniqlo is clothing in the absolute.

In Snacks for a Fat Planet (New Yorker, 2011), it turns out that PepsiCo have invented a new kind of salt. So we wondered, was there a different kind of salt crystal that would produce the same taste curve but with less salt?

Yes: 'We don’t know the molecular structure of the salt receptors, and we don't really understand the mechanism by which salt works,' Khan went on. Nevertheless, collaborating with crystal technologists in Munich, PepsiCo was able to develop '15 micron salt,' a new kind of salt that produces the same taste curve as the salt the company has been using - a pyramid-shaped crystal known as Alberger salt - but contains twenty-five to forty per cent less sodium. PepsiCo first used the new salt on its Walker brand of chips, which it sells in the U.K. By the end of 2012, 15 micron salt will be flavoring many of the Lay's plain chips made in the U.S.

Ice-nine.

A.I. elegans.

THEY INVENTED A NEW MOLECULE JUST FOR CRISPS.

09:35, Tuesday 16 Dec.

Opening lines of Wikipedia articles on various colours:

Do nanometers help?

p215-218: Table 33, Color words in Samuel Johnson's Dictionary (1755).

(I found a file on my computer with the above title. Pages 215-218 of what? The notes are probably from when I was researching Making Senses back in 2006... but the actual source? Possibly Folk Taxonomies in Early English (Anderson). Dunno. Anyway, here are my favourites.)

Black

White

Red

Green

Blue

Also

Also, hyper-red.

Synaesthesia is when you, for example, "see" the printed number 5 as green, and 2 as green. Or hear C-sharp as blue. I swear I remember reading about an experiment where - when a synaesthesiac sees the number 5 as red - the number 5 is also printed in red. And the resulting colour: HYPER-RED.

But I've been combing The Phenomenology of Synaesthesia (Ramachandran and Hubbard) which is the go-to paper on such questions (for example, Does it matter whether the letters are upper or lower case? Yes it does)... and I can't find anything. Am I mis-remembering?

Finally: A list of fictional colours. Plaid is one of the colors outside of the natural human spectrum visible to large intelligent arachnids in Vernor Vinge's novel A Deepness in the Sky. Cracking book that.

12:25, Monday 15 Dec.

Pop the date in your calendar! Coffee morning three is this week. Sort-of-hardware-ish.

Thursday 18 December, 9.30am till whenever, the Book Club in Old St.

Coffee morning two was fun. This will be the same... Zero structure, many conversations all about nonsense maybe with a slight hardware bent, a half dozen or so people, open to anyone!

I've been thinking about why I'm organising this coffee mornings, beyond the whole "there isn't enough time in the day to meet all the interesting people I'd like to, so meet everyone on Thursday mornings" thing, and because I really enjoy introducing people to other people and having that work. I think it's because there's a mode of thinking which I miss now I'm no longer working in a studio, and that's informality. It's the tea-in-the-kitchen chats that make me laugh and spark new thoughts. And that sort of informal serendipity comes from a weird mix of rhythm and randomness. Which means I like having a regular time but not regular attendees. It's just whoever fancies coming that day... I don't want to build a community! But maybe a street corner. I think I'll carry on these coffee mornings into 2015, every couple of weeks probably.

So, next coffee morning is this Thursday, hopefully see you there, and let's chat! If you see someone you don't know, say hello, and if you think two people should talk then make that happen! Recreational catalysis.

There may be crackers containing festive hats. It depends on how organised I am.

Come along!

19:52, Sunday 14 Dec.

1.

Cracking profile of Billy Joel in the New Yorker from October, Thirty-three hit wonder.

Long. Full of good word nuggets.

The saxophone is the radiocarbon.

I seem to be reading a lot of New Yorker articles recently. My current magazine subscriptions are The Economist and the London Review of Books which is max capacity. Maybe time to change it up.

2.

There's a new place in Shoreditch that only sells breakfast cereal. It's called Cereal Killer Cafe. There's a portrait of Hannibal Lector made out of Cheerios on the wall.

Rob Manuel visited, expecting to hate it, and didn't. Lovely story, good luck to them.

3.

I've been totally immersed this weekend in the iPhone game A Dark Room -- minimalist, just text and tapping, and what a picture it paints.

Don't read any reviews, just play it with no preconceptions. Absolutely top fucking notch, best game I've played all year.

Once you have played, here's the development blog.

Also on my iPhone:

4.

Very excited -- Adam Curtis has a new film out in January: Bitter Lake.

Politicians used to have the confidence to tell us stories that made sense of the chaos of world events. But now there are no big stories and politicians react randomly to every new crisis - leaving us bewildered and disorientated. And journalism - that used to tell a grand, unfurling narrative - now also just relays disjointed and often wildly contradictory fragments of information.

Here's the trailer. (Down at the bottom of the blog post.) So good.

Curtis' style is distinctive -- a collage of archive footage and music with CAPS stamped over it, and the essay in his own voice. This new film is about the stories that politicians tell - and Afghanistan and all the usual politics - but also looks like it'll be about journalism and his own technique:

It tells a big story about why the stories we are told today have stopped making sense. But it is also an experiment in a new way of reporting the world. To do this I’ve used techniques that you wouldn’t normally associate with TV journalism. My aim is to make something more emotional and involving - so it reconnects and feels more real.

Looking forward to this enormously.

Curtis' The Century of the Self (2002) is on Vimeo -- part 1 here.

Books

I recently finished The Art of Captaincy by Mike Brearley. Brearley was England cricket captain in the late 1970s, and one of the most successful in recent decades. Then later, President of the British Psychoanalytical Society. The book is exactly as excellent as you can imagine -- and has a tendency to illustrate points with detailed anecdotes about moisture on the wicket and fielding positions.

And also The Cyberiad by Stanislav Lem, funny short stories about robots who invent weird things in a galactic civilisation of robots. Here's how it opens: One day Trurl the constructor put together a machine that could create anything starting with n. -- read How the World Was Saved.

12:17, Friday 12 Dec.

Here's a list of all the things in We Didn't Start the Fire by Billy Joel, ordered by Wikipedia article popularity (page visits in the month of November 2014).

Most popular at the top. Page visits in parentheses.

List of pages mostly taken from the Wikipedia entry for We Didn't Start the Fire, and page view count from the Wikipedia article traffic statistics service.

14:38, Wednesday 10 Dec.

1.

Gifpop! Turn animated GIFs into actual physical prints using the magic of lenticular printing.

Lenticular stuff is brilliant. It reminds me of when I went to my 10 year school reunion and I was meeting all these people that I knew then but hadn't seen since, and I would see them as how I saw them then - with all of those old preconceptions and outdated understanding - then suddenly see them instead with total unfamiliarity as a completely new and unique person, and then it would flip back and forth. And the reverb when that happens as you see two people at once, overlaid, displaced in time but both there in the present, flipping between the two, it builds like a loud buzz in your ears and fills your head. I haven't used Gifpop! yet; maybe I should try to make that. Also they partner with artists and make limited edition gifpops. Super cool!

2.

Knyttan make on-demand, customised pullovers and scarfs. If you're in London, you can go see your pullover being made on their knitting machines in Somerset House (they have a pop-up there).

The designs are gorgeous... they've teamed up with a bunch of designers to make generative art designs, you use the website to build on the patterning - herding the houndstooth flock around a scarf, or overlaying interference patterns - then select colours and size to suit you.

They have some pretty special animated GIFs.

I'm currently based out of Techstars London and Knyttan is one of the startups in the programme, so I've got to spend a bit of time with them. (Incidentally, my mentoring experience at Techstars has totally convinced me about the value of accelerators for startups.)

What excites me most in this area of "on-demand manufacture" is the potential for collapsing the supply chain. You design, you see your item being made. You don't transport the item across the world. When - for cost reasons - you manufacture massive runs, it brings its own pressures: massive shipping containers, long lead times; the logic of marketing, credit, capital and mass consumption. "On-demand" (3D printing, computerised knitting machines) releases the chokehold of mass production.

Shorter supply chains means being closer to the means of production and to the people who work in the factories -- a kind of de-alienation. It means geographically distributed manufacture, less pressure on having to make and then advertise and sell huge production runs. A different kind of world.

So that's what I see. Plus beautiful knitwear, which is after all what really matters.

3.

Pi-Top is a laptop built around the ubiquitous Raspberry Pi single board computer. If you want, you can 3D print your own chassis. There's a lovely transparent window so you can see the electronics inside.

Which - you know what - cars should do too. I'd love a little window in my car (not that I have a car) so I can see it working. There's something about electronics (which cars seem to be now) as opposed to mechanics (which they used to be) which makes it inhuman. Electronics are teeny weeny. You can't see it. So I'm alienated from how my car works. Not, as I said, that I have a car. But I do have a microwave, and I'm alienated from how that works... whereas my grill, I can figure that out.

If I hadn't had a spiritual experience involving transistors when I was 19, I'd be alienated from computers too. (That's a story for another day.)

So when it comes to banks, or government, or policing, it's very easy for me to be alienated from those things too - patted on my head and told not to worry myself about it - because I'm alienated from the stuff in my everyday life already, and I've become acclimated to that feeling. And that's sad. And dangerous.

More Windows In Things.

4.

Do artifacts have ethics?

When we ask whether technology is "moral" or not, is the only relevant question what can be done with it?

A hammer may indeed be used to either build a house or bash someones head in. On this view, technology is morally neutral and the only morally relevant question is this: What will I do with this tool?

Maybe there are more questions:

... might I not also ask how having the hammer in hand encourages me to perceive the world around me? Or, what feelings having a hammer in hand arouses?

And there follows a list of 41 questions that you might ask of a thing - a product, an object - as a start, to understand better what kind of role it has in our moral world.

Here are some favourites of mine:

And,

I love this list.

Blimey I'm banging on today aren't I. Time to wrap up.

18:03, Monday 8 Dec.

1.

Algorithmically extended art.

Always wanted to see more of the night sky in Van Gogh's Starry Night? Well now you can.

My. Mind. Is. Blown.

This is now a built-in function in the Wolfram Language so you can try it yourself.

See also Shapeme which can evolve images e.g. the Mona Lisa out of overlapping triangles, using a technique called simulated annealing.

I don't know what this means. It feels like all these new image-manipulation techniques and tools - Microsoft Hyperlapse which reconstructs 3D scenes from photographs then flies through them, seam carving, Kinect - will one day be bound together in a new kind of Photoshop, a realtime reality manipulator. We have all the bits.

2.

In the UK, government websites are gradually being taken over by the Government Digital Service. The Design Principles are a work of art; the department has so far saved the taxpayer about a half a billion quid, and it won Designs of the Year in 2013.

The guide to Plain English is worth a read. Avoid using metaphors! For example

3.

The Internet Engineering Task Force is the group of people that makes the Internet work. I ran across this quote in The Tao of the IETF, one of their "founding beliefs":

We reject kings, presidents and voting. We believe in rough consensus and running code.

Which reminds me of do-ocracy as an way to run an organisation: Doing a task is in itself justification for you being the person who does that job.

Which reminds me of the San Francisco hackerspace Noisebridge - which is do-ocratic to the extreme - and what happened when a monk moved in and erected a shrine With Hilarious Consequences:

5) The shrine was erected and re-activated, and I believe Church cleared once again, before Tuesday meeting. Crutcher, as the minutes show, said that if it remained so prominent, 'it is my personal plan to do-acrat that shrine to pieces with powertools tonight.'

4.

Once a year, UNESCO adds nominated practices and expressions to the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Some examples from the 300-or-so entries...

When the aliens land and set up shop and they're like, Guys, so what have you got? And we're all... Uh, lasers? We'll trade you lasers for a starship drive. And the aliens will be: Nope, what else?

Then we'll say: Tsiattista poetic duelling. Turkish coffee. Jazz.

Bingo.

Kudos to UNESCO for prepping our inventory ahead of time.

11:22, Friday 5 Dec.

1.

This well-illustrated piece on Chinese Mobile UI trends is full of great nuggets.

My favourite is that companies have adopted automated "chat" as their official public face. Each brand is a bot that runs inside one of the several apps that users in China have instead of Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, etc. How it works:

You can send any kind of message (text, image, voice, etc), and [the bot will] reply, either in an automated fashion or by routing it to a human somewhere. The interface is exactly the same as for chatting with your friends, save for one difference: it has menus at the bottom with shortcuts to the main features of the account.

A couple more features:

Other than that, every feature you can use in a normal chat is available here. WeChat even auto-transcribes the voice messages (mentioned before) into text before passing them to the third-party server running the account. Official accounts can also push news updates to their subscribers. Every media outlet operates one ...

I'm into this, I'm into this. Our western way for interacting with companies (assuming the shitty voice menu things are wildly out-dated) is websites, which we browse. But instead of browsing, a conversation?

So... cultural difference between China and the west, or just one of those forks in the road? Or a glimpse of the future?

2.

Hooked on Labs (thanks Iain) draws a line between the practice of Robert Hooke in the 1660s and the modern trend for companies to have "labs."

Labs are places where people conduct experiments to test out theories. The new labs proliferating outside the hard sciences are a symptom of the spread of experimentalism as an ideology for how we should shape the future. Curiosity is at the core of experimentalist culture: it holds that knowledge should develop by being testable and therefore provisional ...

I like that the answer to "how should we invent?" can be not a process but a location. Other answers might be "a studio," and "the field," both of which suggest a variety of processes and practices without being pinned down.

I guess my recent preoccupation with coffee mornings is about the same thing. Can the "coffee morning" as a place, with all its informality (which I am desperate to preserve), be a way to dowse the scenius, to allow invention to occur without process?

Also coffee.

And this bit:

One vital source of this conversational approach to science was Copenhagen and the culture that Niels Bohr created around his institute for theoretical physics and his nearby home.

...which reminds me of this terrific story about the development of the theory of electron spin and how it came together as Bohr travelled across Europe by train.

At the beginning of the trip:

Bohr's train to Leiden made a stop in Hamburg, where he was met by Pauli and Stern who had come to the station to ask him what he thought about spin. Bohr must have said that it was very very interesting (his favorite way of expressing that something was wrong), but he could not see how an electron moving in the electric field of the nucleus could experience the magnetic field necessary for producing fine structure.

And as Bohr travels from town to town, he meets scientists, hears arguments, develops his view, and carries information. Great story.

I think of the interactions between scientists as the hidden particles that don't show up in the traces of a cloud chamber. They're there, busy - multiple - far denser and richer and messier than the clean interactions of the citations in scientific papers or at conferences - the invisible trillions of forks that are left out of Feynman diagrams. Those interactions are what really matter, and their stories are the most interesting of all.

3.

I mentioned a radio show on the American West the other day... that show mentioned a paper given in 1893 by one Frederick J Turner: The Significance of the Frontier in American History (chapter 1 only in the linked book).

Three years earlier, the western frontier had been officially declared closed. In his paper, Turner argued that as "European germs" moved west from the Atlantic coast, America was created:

Moving westward, the frontier became more and more American. As successive terminal moraines result from successive glaciations, so each frontier leaves its traces behind it, and when it becomes a settled area the region still partakes of the frontier characteristics. Thus the advance of the frontier has meant a steady movement away from the influence of Europe, a steady growth of independence on American lines. And to study this advance, the men who grew up under these conditions, and the political, economic, and social results of it, is to study the really American part of our history.

It's both a wonderful history and a great point of view.

But this chapter is worth reading purely for the language and the metaphors. The variation of sentence length. The rhythms.

colonial settlement is for economic science what the mountain is for geology, bringing to light primitive stratifications.

Every river valley and Indian trail became a fissure in Indian society, and so that society became honeycombed.

Complex society is precipitated by the wilderness into a kind of primitive organization based on the family.

For a moment, at the frontier, the bonds of custom are broken and unrestraint is triumphant.

And now, four centuries from the discovery of America, at the end of a hundred years of life under the Constitution, the frontier has gone, and with its going has closed the first period of American history.

Boom!

This is a paper written to be read aloud.

Continue reading...

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